Denver transforms for the holiday season. The City and County Building is illuminated from every vantage point, strands of lights are strung over the streets and suspended between buildings, and the horse carriages are festively decorated as they clop their way around downtown, pulling passengers snuggled under flannel blankets. While the Mile High City boasts attractions, food, and culture for all tastes, the holiday season brings out its best for visitors of all ages.
Begin your perfect day with a factory tour of Hammond’s Candies, a local confectionary that has been in operation in Denver since 1920. The factory is just a few exits north of downtown on I-25 and free samples of their hard candies are available in the lobby while you’re waiting for the tour to begin.
The hour-long tour starts with a video history of the company, the candy-making process, and the special machines used to create the ribbon candies Hammonds is known for. Hammond’s uses hand-cranked curling machines that date back to the early 1900’s to shape their famous ribbon sweets. Since these machines are no longer made, they take great care to maintain them so they can continue producing their pièces de resistance well into the future.
After the video, the tour moves on to the observation room where you can watch the candy makers working with one batch of candy from start to finish. Becoming a candy maker is a seven year process in which the apprentice eventually learns to make every variety of candy Hammond’s produces, starting with the simple, single-flavor, round hard candies and moving up to the picture taffies and chocolates. After a candy maker has completed a batch, he or she collects all the scrap pieces of candy and puts them off to the side where they will eventually be used as the flavored centers of candy canes.
This is the peak season for Hammond’s as the holidays are nearly upon us. On December 1st and 8th, visitors to the factory can take part in the Candy Cane Festival with train rides, reindeer petting, story telling – even a chance to meet Santa, along with the traditional tour and samples of hard candy. If you have a sweet tooth, try a piece of the chocolate covered marshmallows as you make your way out of the factory through the gift shop.
Afterwards, head downtown for lunch at Dixon’s Downtown Grill. They have an extensive, yet reasonably priced, lunch menu. A popular favorite is the Nutty Cheese Salad with cheddar cheese, banana slices, avocados, sunflower seeds, cashews, and almonds. Dixon’s Goodkids menu also offers several choices for kids beyond the usual grilled cheese and hamburger.
The Children’s Museum is the perfect way to spend an afternoon, especially with younger children. Attractions at the museum include a real fire truck and fire fighter clothes to play with, a kid-sized basketball court, and a grocery store complete with registers, carts, and merchandise on the shelves. Another hands-on attraction is the Assembly Plant where kids can build their own designs using real tools and materials donated by private households. They even get to take their projects with them – and there is nothing better than a hand-made souvenir.
If you find that you’re hungry for dinner even after a sampling session at Hammond’s Candies and lunch at Dixon’s, try The Old Spaghetti factory in downtown Denver. For the true pasta lovers, adults can choose from seven different varieties of spaghetti, along with many other non-pasta dishes. The children’s menu offers five different types of pasta, but best of all, comes with a choice between two different desserts. The ambience is hard to forget, but be sure to take notice of the décor; each Old Spaghetti Factory restaurant has a million dollar budget for antique furniture and novelty pieces that make each one unique and interesting.
The perfect conclusion to your perfect day in and around Denver during the holidays is a horse drawn carriage ride. All along the Sixteenth Street Mall, drivers will park their carriages down the middle of the mall while waiting for new passengers. Just pick your favorite one and spend an hour trotting through the streets, taking in the sights, smells, and sounds of the holidays in Denver. It will be hard to miss all the lights strung through the trees, draped around door fronts and window frames, and spanning over streets from one building to the other. Some drivers even keep thermoses of hot chocolate in their buggies – the perfect nightcap for a day of family fun around Denver.
What and Where:
Denver City and County Building (1437 Bannock St.;720-865-9000)
Hammond’s Candies (5735 Washington St.; 303-333-5588)
Dixons Downtown Grill (1610 16th St.; 303-573-6100)
The Denver Children’s Museum (2121 Children’s Museum Dr.; 303-433-7444)\
The Old Spaghetti Factory (1215 18th St.; 303-295-1864)
16th Street Mall (1600 Stout St.; 303-592-1133)
Maura O’Neal has lived in Denver for three years and is still finding new things to do in and around the Mile High City. When she is not out exploring her own neighborhood, she works as a flight attendant to support her international travel habit. Visit her blog at http://travelsabound.blogspot.com.